- in Environment
Restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 will be in place for the “foreseeable future”, Stormont ministers have warned.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said if people did not stay at home, enforcement measures could be increased.
The PSNI has told the public not to travel over the Easter weekend.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots urged people to “be patient” and follow the executive’s advice.
The total number of NI deaths in the coronavirus outbreak has reached 78.
Environment Public ‘in for a shock’
There have been 7,097 hospital deaths across the UK and 235 deaths in the Republic of Ireland.
Speaking at the daily press conference at Stormont, Mr Poots said enforcement measures were necessary to save lives.
“If people think it’s okay to fill their car up and head off this weekend they’ll be in for a shock,” he added.
“Police will be out on the roads and will stop people. They will be stopped and asked what they are doing and have the law explained to them, as what they are doing is highly inappropriate.”
Mr Poots said those who flouted the law would be punished, while others who were adhering to the rules were helping the health service.
Ms Hargey added that the lockdown would be in place “for the foreseeable future”, as lifting it too early could spark a further rise in cases of the virus.
“People should exercise within the vicinity of their area, as close to their home as they can,” she added.
“We’re asking the public to work with us, every measure we can introduce that reduces the peak helps save lives.”
The government has promised to review the measures every three weeks.
Meanwhile, the finance minister has said Stormont needed to bid for international supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) sooner than it did.
Last month, Conor Murphy said a joint consignment from China was agreed between NI and the Irish government.
But it later emerged the order had failed due to global competition for supplies.
On Wednesday, Mr Murphy said: “The truth is we needed to be in the market a couple of weeks earlier.”
Appearing before Stormont’s finance committee, the minister said following discussions with Department of Health officials about assisting in the procurement efforts, it was suggested his department explore joint bids for PPE with the Republic of Ireland.
He said the order would cost about £170m and that his officials were in the process of arranging payment when difficulties emerged.
“The following week countries with larger buying power had entered the market.
“I spoke to the health minister about the difficulties on the Tuesday night, we had a joint meeting on Wednesday but on Thursday 2 April I received confirmation the order would not be fulfilled.”
Mr Murphy added: “The truth is we needed to be in the market a couple of weeks earlier.”
He denied accusations he had misled the assembly and said his department was still working to complete the order through other means.
Environment ‘In the game before we were’
“Much work has been done since last Thursday when we concluded the supply lines we were looking at had dried up,” he added.
“The Irish government were in the game before we were, they already had their own supply lines.”
The minister also revealed that more than 300 companies in Northern Ireland have offered to make PPE for health workers, and that the department had received other offers of assistance for help in procuring equipment.
While the initial bid with Dublin failed, more than five million items of PPE were delivered to Northern Ireland from Great Britain this week and issued to health care workers.
In other developments:
- There have been 45,000 claims for universal credit in Northern Ireland in the past three weeks, representing a ten-fold increase in applications
- No assessments or exams will take place for vocational qualifications this summer, Economy Minister Diane Dodds has said
- Northern Ireland will benefit from funding announced by the Chancellor to keep struggling charities afloat during the pandemic
- The PSNI, Translink and Causeway Coast and Glens Council have issued a joint statement, warning people not to be tempted to flock to the north coast this weekend
- Ferry operator Stena is reducing its Belfast services
- Calls to a Domestic and Sexual Abuse helpline run by Nexus NI have risen almost 30 percent in the last week. MAP NI, which is the Men’s Advisory Project here, says it has seen a similar rise